"What Happened to Your Eyebrows?"

"What Happened to Your Eyebrows?"

If your mom never had to ask you that, you weren't doing it right.

The "Watts Up With That" site skewers a modern, safe, and boring Chemistry Set that advertises proudly on its cover, "No Chemicals!." What's really entertaining about the post is the trips down memory lane in the comments, where readers fondly recall blowing up themselves, their friends, and their environments in long-ago youth, before things got safe.

It reminded me of my own friends and family. A good friend in high school learned to make nitroglycerine and enjoyed setting vials of it in the middle of deserted fields and chunking rocks at them until they blew up. He let the sun go down on this game once and had to spend an anxious night chunking rocks out into the dark, tortured the whole time by the fear that a boy scout troop would wander into the explosive zone. When he set off his home-made volcano in science class, the fire department had to put it out. Another friend blew three feet of water out of the family swimming pool with the phosphorus he'd carelessly left in a bucket of water in the sun -- he noticed the perilously low water level just in time to throw the bucket into the pool.

It was the same, apparently, for the older generation: My father, who lost half of his hearing at an early age from this kind of thing (don't ever let a beaker of flash powder dry overnight in a school locker), often regaled us with antisocial stories about flushing sodium down the school toilets, which would cause every nearby toilet to geyser in an entertaining fashion. An excellent high school teacher of mine had lost a hand and an eye to a white phosphorus explosion, but was cheerful about life and learning nevertheless.

My favorite story from the comments:

In those days it was difficult to get my Dad’s attention, especially when he was working on one of his own projects. He tended to answer all questions and comments with a sort of, “Hmm,” without really listening to you. He was working away on an anvil in the cellar when my brother told him he had made some nitroglycerine. He said “Hmm,” turning away to get his hammer. While he was looking away my brother put some of the nitroglycerine on the anvil. Dad turned back, brought his hammer down, looked up at the hammer imbedded in the plaster of the ceiling, turned to my brother, and inquired, “What did you just say?”
I think I recognize the gentleman.

Grim's going to love talking about this item.

So what is actually going on here? American writer Ethan Watters’s recent book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the Western Psyche, offers a highly subversive answer. It is that American society has been permeated by psychoanalytical beliefs about the fragility of the human mind.

This creates an expectation, he argues, that people who have been through horrible experiences will be traumatized. The veterans are simply falling in with that expectation, and exhibiting the symptoms that the theory says they should be showing.

In Britain, where the psychoanalytical approach never got such a hold on popular culture, this expectation is much rarer—and so are the symptoms of PTSD.

Now, I seem to remember some EC comics from the 1950's (you can find reprints of these things if you look) with titles like "Frontline Combat" that had all sorts of stories about GI's going bonkers in combat--mostly they seem to be Korean War stories--that seems to agree with the first paragraph above.

Maybe the saying is right: It's all in your head.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Secret Ballot

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Secret Ballot

Fresh on the heels of its lawsuit against Boeing for attempting to locate a new plant in a state where it can commit the crime of running a profit, the NLRB now says it plans to sue the states of Arizona and South Dakota for passing state constitutional amendments requiring a secret ballot for unionizing a company.

The two targeted states argue there is no federal pre-emption of state law in this instance, because the federal labor statute doesn't prohibit secret ballot elections. The NLRB counter-argues that "Congress did not condition [the] fundamental right [to unionize] on the employees' manifesting their choice in a secret ballot election." It also explains that it is unfair to place employers "under direct state law pressure to refuse to recognize – or withdraw recognition from – their employees’ choice of a bargaining representative if that representative has not been designated in a secret ballot election." Yeah, I don't think that possibility is bothering many employers, but thanks for watching out for us!

Arizona and South Dakota aren't the only potential targets. While they passed their constitutional amendments by 61% and 79% votes respectively, voters in South Carolina and Utah passed similar constitutional amendments by 86% and 60% popular votes. The NLRB explained that it is not pursuing immediate lawsuits against the two additional states because it "doesn't have enough staff to handle four lawsuits at the same time." That confession suggests an immediate counter-strategy to this litigator.

The long-term counter-strategy, of course, is scheduled for November 2012.

Just Don't Let Them in the Foxholes

Just Don't Let Them in the Foxholes

What better way to establish that a certain type of militant secular humanism is just another evangelical religion? Atheists seek chaplain roles in military.

Be careful what you wish for, kiddies.

The Invisible Hand

The Invisible Hand

For years I read about the bloated public sector, without often encountering any effective measures for curbing it. Finally a handful of states and municipalities are doing the unthinkable: cutting their budgets. The response is a general rush for the door:

California is one of many states seeing double-digit increases in retirement applications from public employees like Essex. States across the U.S. are grappling with budget deficits totaling more than $540 billion since 2009, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and many legislatures have passed or are considering bills that would cut the pay of public workers, raise the amount they contribute to their benefits, or require furloughs. . . .

Because of the recession, many workers postponed retirement in 2008 and 2009. That and demographics explain some of the recent increase in retirements. Politics is also a factor, as budget-tightening officials take on the unions they say are driving up costs. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has likened his state's teachers union to "political thugs." Retirements there jumped 60 percent between 2009 and 2010. In Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker has signed a law limiting collective-bargaining rights, retirements are up 79 percent in the first quarter of 2011 over the same period last year. . . .

Impending pay and benefit cuts prompt others to quit. Florida Governor Rick Scott has proposed that workers pay 5 percent of their salaries to help cover pension contributions and health-insurance premiums as the state tries to trim a $3.8 billion deficit this year. Florida's retirement numbers are already 23 percent higher in the first seven months of the 2011 fiscal year than in all of 2010. Texas legislators may require state employees to pay for 10 percent of their health-insurance premiums, and the state expects retirements to climb 54 percent this fiscal year over last. . . .

The bottom line: Many states are seeing double-digit increases in retirement applications as legislators trim pay and benefits.
I see this as a good thing: people responding appropriately to price signals that reflect reality. The state workers' skills aren't being lost to society, only to the public sector. The ones who are doing work that their neighbors value will find work in the private sector. That way, the people who want the skills will be the ones who pay for them at a market rate, instead of passing their cost onto others. Nurses can be expected to fare better than bureaucrats. In the meantime, the public sector can get back to hiring only as many workers as the citizens are willing to support with taxes.

Delhi to Dublin.

I was sort of wondering when I'd finally see something like this...

Triumph O'er the Grave

Triumph O'er the Grave

Every year during Lent the liturgy calls for us to omit the usual "Alleluias" from our responses at several points in the service. It takes an effort of will not to add them at their accustomed places; it reminds us of the dark struggle we are commemorating. At last comes Easter. The joy and relief of the returning "Alleluia" at this season is very powerful.

These two triumphant numbers are so well known among Sacred Harpers that no one gets his part mixed up, and half of the singers don't need their books any more. The "Easter Anthem" being a little longer and involved than most Sacred Harp songs, the group in this particular video took the unusual step have having two leaders in the hollow square. (No, we don't sing this kind of music at my church -- I wish!)

Happy Easter to you all.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter: